William Lea Cook was born in St. Helen’s, Lancashire in 1892, the fifth child of Robert Cook and Selina Lea’s seven children. William’s father died in 1908 and early the next year William joined the 5th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment. The 5′ 3″ 17-year old served in the Territorial Force until August 1911 when he emigrated to Canada.
Like thousands of recent immigrants, William joined up at Valcartier in September 1914. He claimed on his attestation papers that he was born on Oct. 9, 1891 although birth and baptism records suggest he was a year younger. He joined the infantry, the 9th Battalion C.E.F., and sailed to England aboard the S.S. Zeeland in early October, just days after the massive flotilla transported the First Canadian Contingent to Plymouth. The 9th trained on Salisbury Plain during the horrific winter of 1914/15 but never fought together as a unit. They were re-designated the 9th Reserve Battalion in April 1915 and were used to reinforce Canadian units at the front.
In early 1916 William was still in England and attached to the 9th Reserve Battalion. In a letter dated Feb. 3, 1916 he writes to a friend in Tunbridge Wells to say that he is on the verge of becoming a Lieutenant but is “thoroughly disgusted” to have been in Britain for 14 months as a “civilian in uniform“. He apologizes for not visiting him and mentioned “Bob was to have sent me your address long ago but I guess poor Bob got his before he had the time to send it“. Bob was William’s older brother Robert Cook who served in the South Lancashire Regiment and died at Ypres on May 25, 1915.
On Dec. 7, 1916 William got his wish and joined the 50th Battalion, C.E.F. at Divion, France. On Christmas Day the battalion entered the front lines near Villiers au Bois. They moved to Carency on New Years Day and here they remained, rotating in and out of the front lines, as part of the build up to the Vimy offensive.
On Feb. 3rd, 1917 six parties consisting of 6 officers and 100 men, including Lt. William Cook, raided enemy trenches south-east of Souchez. The objectives were to “1. Secure identification and information from prisoners. 2. Cause casualties. 3. Destroy enemy works“. The “show commenced” at 9:00pm and was considered successful in that it netted 7 prisoners and resulted in an estimated 100 enemy killed or wounded. The raid did come at a cost however, one officer and 4 men were missing and believed killed. The officer was Lt. William Cook. Eventually it was determined that he was “Killed in Action” however no known grave exists. His name and 11, 284 others are written on the Vimy Memorial, commemorating Canadian soldiers who died in France during the First World War but whose final resting place is unknown.